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Do school employees double-dip with pension and temp paychecks?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—A recent investigation into the employment practices of the Richmond Public school system shows that roughly 15 percent of all Richmond public school employees are actually retired.

Retirement is usually the final chapter in a person’s career. Employees stop punching the proverbial time clock and begin scooping up the monthly pension checks.

Documents obtained by CBS 6 show that 332 retirees of the school system—which faces a $24 million dollar budget shortfall—have returned as employees, some paid hefty wages.

Some may have returned after retiring with a pension.  The practice could be done on legal grounds, but is the practice good, efficient government?

In Virginia, pension checks for school system retirees pays out just over half of their salary for the rest of their lives. Such pension is funded by taxpayers.

“They could all stop it if they wanted to blow the whistle, but they’re not willing to blow the whistle,” said Paul Goldman, an education advocate and the state’s former Democratic Party chairman.

After a tip from school insiders, CBS 6 requested personnel documents and found hundreds of cases of retirees returning back into the Richmond Public School system.

Extensive research of the documents revealed a pattern. Several retired administrators came back to earn a six figure rate of pay. They’re classified as temporary employees and are not listed on the RPS website.

EXAMPLE OF POSITIONS, PAY AND CUMULATIVE EARNING

Job Position Salary Temp Pay Hourly Rate Cumulative Earnings
Assistant Superintendent $99,559 $53.72 $462,492.89
Executive Director Elementary School $110,845 $57.80 $397,028
Principal $80,347 $43 $42,629
Principal $104,541 $50.07 $18,826

The case that caught our attention first involved the current chief of staff for RPS. Over the past three years and seven months—after his official retirement–he has earned nearly $400,000 dollars as a temporary employee.

His most recent employment contract is 11 months long. Yet his parking space and office at city hall make it difficult to grasp him being classified as a part-time employee.

CBS 6 Reporter Catie Beck asked how he can have those things and still be classified a temporary part-time employee.

“Well I really can’t speak to that because I’m not sure how many hours or what percentage of the position that particular person is working,” said Felicia Cosby, spokesperson for the Richmond Public Schools. “It’s not a matter of the office space or the parking it’s a matter of how many hours that person is working and I can’t address that.”

The Virginia Retirement System contends that it is about the hours. Their policy states that legally to work back in the system retirees must be part time, working less than 80 percent of the hours that a full-time employee would work in a year.

“The person would not be in a position to collect a retirement benefit and serve in a full time capacity,” said Jeanne Chenault, spokesperson for the VRS.

The Richmond school district says retirees are meant to “bridge a gap”.

CBS 6 found retired principals serving as interim principals, some making sizable paychecks for just a little over two months work.

Others held different temp jobs for several years, one collected close to a half a million dollars in income…while in retirement.

“They are where they are needed until we are able to find a full time replacement,” said Cosby.

Yet documents reveal the case of an employee meant to “bridge a gap,” that has been receiving payment for seven years.

“We want to create continuity in that office or continuity in that school and so that is the philosophy behind RPS using retirees,” said Cosby.

“For some reason they think they can do this and the public has no alternative but to accept it,” said Paul Goldman.

It’s a practice now getting the attention of Richmond leaders. Leaders like Councilman Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, who says he would rather see these cuts at the top than from the classroom.

“When you’re doing something like this, if you are knowingly doing it. you’re doing wrong,” he said.

School officials were quick to point out that bringing retirees back in to the workforce is a common practice in school districts across the country. In fact nothing that CBS 6 found was proven illegal, but questions over fairness and careful spending remain.

“You’re allowing these abusive double-dip practices,” said Goldman.

While the district doesn’t see it that way, they did tell CBS 6 that the superintendent is looking in to it.

“The fact that someone is double dipping the system – and it seems with the knowledge of the school administration, is infuriating,” said Samuels.

“We are indeed reviewing our practices and procedures when it comes to how we use retirees,” said Cosby.

A review is well overdue said Councilman Samuels.

“I’m frustrated; I’m angered; I’m downright mad,” he said.

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